Tag Archives: Sri Lanka

Celebrating Role Models – Day 24

SULAKSHINI PERERA, External Relation’s Officer at the UNHCR, former TV News Anchor.

For me, independence was never a choice; it was a reality that was forced upon me by life. I also believe that strength in the face of adversity is inherent in all of us.

In my life, the turning point came in my late-teens when, within a period of two years I went from being a typical ‘only child’, doted on and spoilt by loving parents, to being an orphan who had little choice but to depend on the generosity of family and friends. Needless to say, those few years and the immediate aftermath can be easily defined as the most challenging period of my life. It also helped define who I am today. Through all the bizarre experiences, both good and bad, I stumbled upon the path that I firmly believe I was meant to take in life.

I became a part time newsreader for MTV/MBC to help put me through graduate school. A month later I moved on to become a producer/line up sub-editor/anchor on television. During a span of three years there, I can confidently say that I learned much more ‘on the job’, than I would ever have learned sitting in a classroom, listening to someone teach me about becoming a TV journalist. But the most significant change, both personally and professionally, came when I joined the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Sri Lanka.

When I look back, I am amazed at how my six years with UNHCR has helped mold me into the person I am today. Especially in my line of work, I have the good fortune of regularly traveling to the areas where we work and meeting with the people we help, both in Sri Lanka and overseas. Each time I am reminded that, in the midst of all the criticism about the UN and its bureaucracy, we do make a difference in people’s lives, be it through something simple like giving a pack of essential household items and cash grant to a single-mother of five who has lost everything in the conflict, to helping an old lady who has been living in a camp in India for decades return home to meet her grand children for the first time or by providing protection to a young boy forced to flee his own country for fear of being persecuted for his religious beliefs.

Despite the intense personal losses I have experienced, individuals like these have helped bring a sense of perspective into my life. In the midst of everything that’s wrong with the world, there are people who have picked themselves up and wake up in each morning ready to battle it out with whatever life throws at them.

To me, these are the true role models.


Celebrating Role Models- Day 16


People are nonplussed when I tell them that I’m a puppeteer. It isn’t something one commonly aspires to be, especially after double majoring in Economics and Theater in an exclusive liberal arts college in New England. Many do not dig deeper to find that puppets are only an entry point for the myriad of things I do. Puppets open doors that people can’t. Puppets enter hearts of even the most hardened cynics, and do it so swiftly that they are often caught off guard. Prisoners to policemen, clergy men to soldiers, corporate icons to lost souls in half-way homes, adults and children from North to South to Colombo 7 – everyone lights up in the presence of a puppet that speaks directly to them. Puppets are the magic of communication.

I always knew I wanted to return to Sri Lanka as I was miserably lonely wherever else I lived. But I knew that performing arts was the way forward to explore, connect and reconcile communities torn apart by decades of myths, misunderstandings and mistakes. At the end of the day, we are all human. We all feel the same emotions irrespective of their triggers. Performing arts is a visceral medium that impacts the core of humans in a unique way. It allows audiences to empathize with what they see. And empathy is vital for understanding.

Progress hasn’t been easy – it’s hard to convince people to believe in a medium they didn’t know existed. But I’m blessed with family, friends, mentors & a few corporate/institutional decision makers who have experienced the power of performance first hand and believe that it is the way forward in Sri Lanka today.

So, I keep going. Thanking those who nurtured me, taught me, believed me when I was losing track of myself and gave me chances to make a living doing what I love. I rejoice that every day. But I am nothing without my pillars. Thank you. I will keep doing what you empower me to do.

Photograph by Dinuka Liyanawatte

For more information on recent projects – http://www.facebook.com/pages/Power-of-Play-PVT-LTD/206118736149418

Happy International Women’s Day 2012 !

It’s International Women’s Day, people!
Who are the women in your life that you look upto?
Stay tuned for Reach Out’s awesome picturesque project this month.


Questions around religion and patriarchy

By Hayaz


I’m sure all of us are acquainted to some degree or the other about gender based violence and violence against women issues. The immediate ones that come to mind of course are the most visible – physical and sexual abuse/harassment/ violence against women and girls. The other more subtle but equally harmful forms being verbal, psychological and economic abuse and violence to name a few. Many of us may or may not be aware of the root causes of gender based violence. It is assumed given context, situation and scenario to be different reasons, ranging from – 1) the perspective of the perpetrator-: alcoholism, lack of poverty, lack of education, a perverted mindset etc and 2) the perspective of the victim-survivor –: her behavior, her dress, her actions which may have led to/causes violence etc. In reality these are excuses, alibis, myths and assumptions. The root of it all is power relations and inequality – the underlying notion that males of a society have more power than females. This premise sets tone for gender roles to be designated to men and women and has for centuries spurned the practices of society through its best friend – the patriarchal ideology which together with power inequality has resulting impacts ranging from control and discriminations to violence and abuse against women and girls.

The patriarchal ideology deeply embedded in centuries of human life, has inturn some key ingredients that make it strong and compounded, again these differ from context, country and community, but one of its strongest is religion. Religion has for centuries been the perfect disguise under which to serve the masses certain principles, norms and values not necessarily derived from the belief in a Creator/ process of creation, or the founders of that particular religion. Its come down to us as non-negotiables, unquestionable, no-answerables, when infact that particular religion whichever it may be, may encourage exploration, self understanding, questioning, debates and discussions. In certain context, particularly when it comes to women, the machinery of patriarchal ideology uses religion as ‘the’ tool to enforce norms and behavior to the extent that religion is altered and converted to suit a particular sex/ gender of a particular community.

In my opinion there are two major issues/points of contention (among others) when it comes to religion and women 1) the raw religion and its stance on its female constituency and gender roles between its members and 2) how religion has been taken, changed and altered to suit the patriarchal ideology. While the former point of contention requires indepth study, research and a good knowledge of theology and religion, the latter is more easily detectable, obvious and glaring in daily life situations and it is on this point of contention that I want to raise some questions. Being a Muslim woman my questions are obviously targeted towards the practice of Islamic customs within a conservative, traditionalist Muslim community of Sri Lanka. There are many questions but let’s begin with some basic ones around practices of marriage, because those have the most obvious examples.

I would like to know, for one why in the world we cannot sign our own marriage forms in this country? Or worse we cannot sign it because we belong to a certain madhab (school of thought) and not the other? If God has given me right to consent and stresses it over and over in His ‘revelations’, who is man to deny it of me in the very document that symbolizes consent? And please don’t give me a ‘because she can’t come to the mosque during the nikah (marriage)’ tosh when other Muslim countries/ countries with Muslim populations have it as a prerequisite. Could this be an indication of the deeper underpinnings to the way marriages are done here? An indication of the lack of gravity, seriousness and value given to Muslim bridal consent in this country? An indication of the reigns of control imposed on women and girls by the male members of her family? That the marriage of a woman and man is not a relationship of equals?

I would also like to know, why is it that a large percentage of the Muslim community in Sri Lanka practice dowry when it is forbidden by the religion under which we say we belong to? How come women and their families are these days expected to come ready made with cash and houses and gold? When there is no doubt that religion states that Muslim women’s families do not need to bare any cost in the act of marriage. Please tell me why many mosque and community leaders haven’t been able intervene in this issue? And many claim its not their area to intervene when marriages cannot even occur without a religious leader? On a related note, please also tell me how come we have a clause for and a space to write ‘kaikuli’ (a very clever disguise for ‘moveable assets *cough*dowry*cough*’) given by bride party in the marriage registration forms and the law that governs us Muslims? So if it benefits the men of the community, its in practice even if it’s dishonored in religion, but God given rights to women are taken away? Excuse me O.o

These are some basic tenets on which families and communities are founded in Muslim society and their consequences fall on women as individuals and as members of a Muslim population. While we do not have clear records/statistics of the number of women who may have been affected by practices of non- consent, pressured/forced marriages, dowry issues, ask any Muslim and we’ll probably be able to tell you more than one such case that we know of. Ask someone who works on Muslim community issues and she/he will be able to tell you hundreds. I am merely taking two such examples of the way religion has been altered to dance to the tune of discriminatory ideology, there are many many more. The answers to these questions are slow and difficult in coming, but we as members of a particular religious community that we say we belong to better figure these out. Religion is equally striving towards a good and better hereafter as it is towards a good and better today here and now.


Hayaz is a guest contributor. She loves ink sketching and is pretty good with a camera. She blogs here. Her opinions are her own.

Day : Fifteen from the BB campaign

Day fifteen features a photograph by T.

Intimate partner violence is a little studied, yet frequently occurring phenomenon in Sri Lanka. IPV occurs in many ways, including psychical, verbal, psychological and sexual abuse by a spouse. Reports show that there is a high prevalence of abuse such as marital rape and sexual abuse, wife beating and assault with a weapon.

Sri Lankan society tends to take the very backward view that what happens within the home should stay within the home, and that some abuse is always a part of marriage. The Demographic and Health Survey 2006/2007 shows that between 20-50% of women think a husband is justified in wife-beating for reasons such as “argues with him”, “goes out without telling him” and “refuses to have sexual intercourse with him”. A study conducted among a sample of undergraduate medical students at the University of Colombo revealed that “33.4% of the students justified wife beating, and 63.1% stated that they believed women bear a  proportionately larger responsibility for the violence perpetrated against them” (Jayatilleke et al, 2010)

Perceptions and attitudes play an important role in how women are perceived within a relationship, but also affect the help that is available to them after violence occurs. The attitudes and sensitivity of police, healthcare workers and the community are important in helping to alleviate IPV.

While society turns a blind eye, many reasons have been cited for IPV. Alcoholism, early marriage age, low income and existing patriarchal attitudes, among a slew of other reasons, all contribute towards IPV. None of them, however, are an excuse.


– T

One day left of the 16 day campaign… Tomorrow 10 December, will feature the last photograph of the 16 day online campaign against gender based violence  by the WMC campaign against GBV.

For more information about this campaign click here

T is a member of the steering committee of Beyond Borders. She works in the development sector and has mad culinary skills. She’s a writer, a poet and she dabbles in photography. She blogs at Dance in a Triangle. Her opinions are her own.


you can find the original post here.

Day : Fourteen from the BB campaign

Fists Don’t Listen

Fists don’t listen in my blurry state

I’m a dog without a home

My psyche can’t love; slave to a world

that never throws me a bone

The system rules the outer world

My task is your sustenance

The system makes me sub human

And my mind is past its penance

No, my fists can’t hear your blurry love

My fists are our survival

I’m angered by your garb of innocence

With no jungle nor a rival

So I beat and beat away from me

How incorrect can I prove you?

And somewhere inside I know it’s wrong

But ‘right’ is nothing I am used to

The economy’s gotten my humanity

My failings have gotten my heart

And what’s left of my morality

has gone without a spark

An animal inside human flesh

A clam a parrot an idle jest

Life is just a lark

And all I see is dark

The poem was inspired by a news clipping i read long ago about a retired champion heavy weight boxer. His son had given an interview saying that his father would come home drunk some nights and slam his mother (the boxer’s wife) with a combination. Anyone who’s watched boxing knows the power a heavyweight puts into a hard combination (a series of hard punches meant to destroy an enemy). Now imagine that combination slamming into soft, yielding flesh. imagine them pulping brittle bone. The bone of a person that loves you, or they would have undeniably left by now. I think men who beat their wives do so out of a sense of deep frustration about they way they are treated in the world. About how their illusions of reality don’t play out the way they think they should. Their ambitions are thwarted again and again and they have no moral or spiritual framework to release the tension. It is undoubtedly a failing of the man concerned, but it is also a societal disease, this shouldn’t happen in a healthy God fearing society.


Watch this blog for the next 2 days. We’ll be posting a featured photograph each day till 10 December as part of WMC campaign against GBV.

For more information about this campaign click here


The photograph concept was thought up by Halik– a board member of Beyond Borders. With the help of the BB team, a borrowed camera, bad lighting and a few doughnuts- the featured photograph was captured. Halik is a board member of Beyond Borders and blogs here when he is not bumming out or being a journalist/economist.


you can find the original post here.

Day : Ten from the BB blog

Day Ten features a photograph by Hyshyama Hanim.

Call it what it is. Despite decades of grappling with gender based violence issues, the world still lies to itself, culture still sets up excuses, society still believes in myths around abuse, violence and discrimination of women. You and I are still trying to understand its root cause. No it is not her so-called meekness, his so-called inherent anger, her dress, his alcoholism, her behavior, his lust. It is perceived ’power’. This fueled by patriarchal ideology, fermented in societal practice and belief. To eliminate it, is to start from the root. Call it what it is.

– Hyshyama

Hyshyama is a guest contributor. She loves ink sketching and is pretty good with a camera. She blogs here. Her opinions are her own.